Surviving as a Freelance Artist in Today's World

Updated: Aug 21, 2019

Unless you're a trust-fund baby, these are the things you'll need to figure out if you want to succeed as a freelance artist in the 2020s!

Whether you work as a freelance photographer, illustrator, 3D animator, or graphic designer, having at least a reasonable degree of financial stability is vital. There's nothing that drains your creative energy more than having to worry about money.

One way to guarantee your days will be filled with stress and anxiety is to rely on a single source of income. Before your only support pillar collapses, it makes sense to diversify your revenue streams. However, setting it all up isn't going to be quick and easy. If you're willing to put in the effort, though, it can change your life in more ways than you can imagine.

1. Preparing the Ground

The first thing to come to terms with is that you must run yourself like a business if you want to succeed. This means being organized, structured, and focused. It's time to embrace minimalism and unleash your inner Marie Kondo – not only on your physical stuff, but your digital life, your finances, and everything else.

Depending on how much of a mess you are in, it may take months to sort everything out. However, it is going to be worth it. You'll waste less mental energy trying to track where everything is and what is due next. Plus, you'll be able to move faster, whether it is to deal with a crisis or take advantage of an opportunity.

2. Planning Your Online Strategy

When it comes to artists, often their lack of financial success is not due to a deficit of skills or talent, but having the wrong strategy. In this section, we'll take a look at the different pieces that might be required to complete the puzzle.

Of course, there is no single path that will work for all artists and situations, but below is a sample that might give you ideas. Here, you're going to plan (or revise) your approach. This stage is just defining how you'll move forward.


Many freelance artists make a living through offering services. This could be locally or via several online freelance job marketplaces such as Conyac. The key is to find the avenues which work best for your offerings. You'll want to have more than one, but not spread yourself too thin.

Production Process

Whether it is making art for your own purposes or work for clients, what is your process? What tools are you using? Although it's likely just muscle memory for you by now, it can help to lay it out in a list.


Do you have a central place that showcases your best work? You want to be able to give someone an easy to remember URL that they can access to see your top images. They shouldn't have to wade through lots of stuff to find your best photos. Just give them a single page with a clean gallery of the works that represent your strengths.

There is no correct number, but generally, having 12 to 20 images is regarded as ideal. Be sure to show your best work in different genres. For example, don't have ten pictures of the same object, character, or scene. That said, in addition to individual images, you may want to have a few series with 5 –10 images that tell a story.

If you are strapped for cash, then consider one of the free platforms for establishing a portfolio. Popular ones include ArtStation, DeviantArt, and Flickr. However, you ideally want to use a premium service that will allow you to use your own domain name. Popular options include SmugMug, Visual Society, and Zenfolio.

There is a dizzying array of options available, and it may take you a while to find one that fits your needs. For example, some platforms may let you sell prints, downloads, and include blogging functionality. Take your time in deciding, but realize from the start that there is no single perfect platform out there - everything is a compromise.

Building a Following

Even if you are a master at offline networking, it pays to build up an online following to attract both clients and sales (more on the latter below). For example:

  • Sharing Your Thoughts: Rather than worrying about producing content, simply use the strategy of documenting your journey. Share what you're working on, the tools and techniques you're using, what you're learning, and any recent discoveries or revelations. Keep it positive so that you make a good impression on prospects. If you must vent, do it anonymously somewhere such as

  • Keeping in Touch: Setting up an email newsletter is the best way to build up an audience of prospects that you can reach directly.

  • Getting Noticed: While having an active blog will eventually attract traffic from search engines, you want to be proactively getting your work out in front of prospects. When it comes to visual content, it's hard to beat Instagram (over 1 billion monthly active users; MAU). Another strong one is Pinterest (almost 300 MAU). Some photographers find that sharing some of their work on free stock photo sites such as Unsplash brings them a lot of attention.

Making Money Online

  • Subscriptions: Platforms such as Patreon, Revue, SubscribeStar, and Substack let you combine blogging with email newsletters and charge subscriptions. This would let you charge for member-only content, such as offering exclusive downloads.

  • Prints: Sites such as RedBubble and Society6 make it easy to sell prints without any upfront costs. Plus, they take care of everything - all you have to do is upload your images.

  • Downloads: If you are a photographer, you are likely already familiar with the various premium stock photo sites. Both artists and photographers can sell items such as art courses, or LightRoom presets on Gumroad.

3. Building Your Brand

Whether you intend to work primarily with people offline and face-to-face or do everything online, you need to be memorable. You need to have a brand.

Your Brand Name

Choose the name you will use. It may be your real name or a nickname that will identify you as an artist. You'll use this as your website URL and profile usernames. Using the same one everywhere will make it much easier for fans and customers to find and follow you. Tools such as Namechk can help you find something unique that is available across different platforms. To register a domain name, popular choices include GoDaddy and NameCheap.

Your Brand Image

Similarly, your profile picture (and for platforms that support it, your cover image) should be the same everywhere you show up online. Some artists use a picture of themselves. Others wish to remain anonymous and use some other visual representation.

Getting Everything "On-Brand"

  1. Find all of your various online profiles and bookmark them.

  2. Next, sort them into ones that pertain to your activities as an artist.

  3. For all other profiles, decide which you want to keep. Close/delete all you won't be needing.

  4. For the rest, if you want to keep them private or anonymous, then do so. The idea is to hide anything you don't want prospects to see and associate with your brand.

  5. Get branded email. A popular service is G Suite, but if you prefer something with better privacy, check out ProtonMail.

  6. For offline meetings and networking, be sure always to have business cards ready. Sites such as Moo are easy ways to get some made. There's no need to share your home address or phone number. The idea is to have something to give prospects so that they can easily (i) remember what you do (ex. graphic designer, photographer, etc.), find your portfolio (via your website URL), and contact you for any assignments (via your custom email address).

4. Holding it All Together

Unless you have the budget to hire someone or are blessed with a partner who wants to support your work, then you'll need to be the one who keeps it all organized.

  • Book-keeping: Don't wait until the end of your financial year to organize your records. Do it quarterly. Get a good accountant (recommended) or figure out how to do it all yourself.

  • Have a System: There's no one correct way, but you need to be able to find essential documents and details quickly. Organize your files and consider using an app such as Genius Scan to help you go paperless.

  • Backup: Your computer may be broken, lost, or stolen. Your house may catch fire. All your data should be backed-up to the cloud. Have a plan for what you'll do if the worst hits.

  • Insurance: If your finances allow and you haven't already, look into taking out any kinds of insurance you may need.

5. Work-Life Balance

The most crucial component in all of this is you. Figure out how you are going to maintain a healthy mind, body, and spirit. Part of this might be scaling back, reducing your costs, and doing less. This will get increasingly important as you age. If you're over 40, it's time to start becoming a health nut – don't wait until things start to fall apart!


None of us were taught in school how to manage our lives or build successful careers. And, very few are able to navigate their way through all the obstacles while keeping track of all the moving parts. This is a journey, and we all must take it one step at a time.

On the flip side, many opportunities that beckon us today didn't exist a decade or more ago. And, it's never been easier to build a successful career as a freelance artist.

If you'd like to connect with other freelancers, feel free to join our community forum, We'd love to share stories and support each other's journeys.

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